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Christmas Beef Tagine


Christmas festivities are upon us! While there is a lot of traditional baking to be done, I have decided to go down a slightly different path for a dinner tonight that celebrates Christmas from around the world.

As a big fan of tagines, I decided to create a special Christmas Tagine.  Bright with the colours of Christmas, red and green, and deliciously fragrant with Middle Eastern flavours that remind us of the original Christmas story, this beef tagine is full of beautiful veggies too.

Of course, the beef tagine can be eaten at any time of the year! But it can be an alternative to the usual suspects eaten on the day, and would make a great Boxing Day or even New Year’s dish!

I have recently been researching the Keto Diet – not, I hasten to add, on my own behalf – but to better understand what a particular disciple of this low carb program can eat. So I had a go at creating something that might be at least keto friendly,  if not actually following all its tenets. I have certainly got to grips with the idea “above ground vegetables good, below ground vegetables bad”!

Here it is. You could substitute some non keto approved below ground veggies like potatoes or carrots, if you like, but they would need to be added in at the start of the recipe, as they take longer to cook. As prunes aren’t probably that great for the Keto Diet, but do add that traditional sweetness to the tagine, you could halve the amount to get the flavour without too much of the sugar. Or leave them out altogether!

Ingredients

2 teaspoons paprika – sweet

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon sumac

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pepper corns – cracked in a mortar and pestle

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

500g diced shin beef/chuck steak

4 eshallots  and 4 spring onions, finely chopped

(Or replace both with 2 large onions)

1-2 garlic cloves, to taste, finely chopped

1  x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

175g prunes

1.5 tins water (use the tomato tin as a measure)

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 small eggplant (aubergine), sliced

2 zucchini (courgettes), sliced

100g green olives

Chopped coriander, to decorate

Method

Combine the spices and pepper and salt in a large bowl. Add beef and stir until well coated in the spices. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.

Preheat oven to 140 degrees C.

Heat a heavy based casserole on the stovetop, and add half the olive oil. Add the chopped shallots and spring onions or ordinary onions and cook them for 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the garlic and continue to cook for a further couple of minutes or until the garlic is softened but not browned. Remove all to a plate.

Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan. Tip in the beef and cook over a fairly high heat until evenly browned and caramelised.

Return the shallots/onion/garlic to the casserole. Add the chopped tomatoes, tins of water and stir well. Add the pomegranate molasses. Stir in a third of the prunes. Lay several slices of the eggplant (about a third of the eggplant) on the top of the mixture.  Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and transfer to the oven.

Cook for an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and lay the rest of the eggplant slices and the zucchini slices into the casserole, as well as the rest of the prunes and most of the olives, reserving a few for serving. Cook, covered for a further hour or until the beef is really tender.

If you’re not completely satisfied with the tenderness of the beef pieces, you can cook for a further 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter the remaining olives over the tagine, and some coriander leaves.

The tagine should be looking pretty festive with its tomato red and coriander green, but you could add some sliced cherry tomatoes for a little more red or even, if so inclined, a few slices of red chilli!

Chicken, Leek and Asparagus Oven Risotto


Here’s another recipe that’s super easy, pretty fast and will cheer you up if you’re staying at home in social isolation.

It’s quick and easy because it’s an oven baked risotto! The recipe is based on a Bill Granger recipe. Our own home grown cook and restaurateur has recipes for a couple of oven baked risottos.It makes sense to let the oven do the cooking rather than spend all that time stirring on the stove top!

You could replace the leeks or asparagus with whatever you fancy – zucchini, peas, broad beans or even tomatoes for a red hued risotto…

And have a glass or two of the riesling that you opened to put in the risotto!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
500g chicken breast or thighs, cut into thin strips
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
250g Arborio rice
500ml chicken stock
250ml white wine + extra if needed
1 bunch of asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
A handful of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus extra to serve
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole dish on the stove top over a high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining olive to the pan, then the onion and leek, and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until the onion and leek are soft. Add the lemon zest and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil. Add the chicken stock and white wine, and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.

Cover the casserole and put in the oven for 20 minutes. At this point, if the risotto seems to have absorbed all the liquid, add a splash or two of white wine. Add asparagus, return the chicken to the casserole and bake for a few minutes or until the asparagus is just tender, the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Bill says to do this for 3-4 minutes, I found it took more like 10 minutes to fully cook the rice.

Stir in parmesan or pecorino and season with salt and pepper. Serve with extra cheese.

Ottolenghi’s Lentils with Roast Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes and Yoghurt

I’ve recently acquired the new Ottolenghi book Simple. It’s a lovely book, written in such an interesting and useful way. The recipes, while not necessarily with a limited number of ingredients, are all quite ”simple” to prepare. The recipes are full of Ottolenghi’s trade mark Middle Eastern flavours.

I’ve tried some of the savoury recipes and of course I’m keen to get into the sweet stuff soon!

Here’s a relatively quick, and definitely easy to prepare savoury veggie dish, that works well as a salad or side as well as a lighter main.

Ottolenghi goes into detail about how to cook the eggplants. While his method uses the oven at a high temperature, he also describes how you can cook the eggplants directly over a gas flame on the stove top, which he rightly points out is very messy!

I cooked the eggplants on the bars of a very hot barbecue, lid down, for extra heat. This was very successful, and they cooked in about 15 minutes. Whatever method you go for, the idea is to blister the skin of the eggplants so the you can peel it off to get to the softened flesh.

Ingredients

4 eggplants, about 1.1kg, pricked a few times with a knife
300g cherry tomatoes
160g Puy lentils or 350g ready-cooked lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to serve
1½ tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons oregano leaves – I used thyme which I prefer as a herb
salt and black pepper
100g Greek yogurt

Method

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C or as high as your oven will go.

Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, turning them over halfway through, until the flesh is completely soft and slightly smoky. Or use the barbecue method that I mentioned above. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough handle, scoop the flesh out into a colander. Set aside, in the sink or over a bowl, for 30 minutes, for any liquid to drain away. The skin can be discarded.

Place the cherry tomatoes on the same baking sheet and roast for 12 minutes, until slightly blackened, split, and soft. Remove from the oven and set aside. You can also cook the tomatoes on the barbecue too, but put them on a baking sheet.

Meanwhile, if starting with uncooked lentils, fill a medium saucepan with plenty of water and place over high heat. Once boiling, add the lentils, decrease the heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes, until soft but still retaining a bite. Drain, then set aside to dry out slightly. If starting with ready-cooked lentils, just tip them into a large bowl and add the eggplant flesh, tomatoes, oil, lemon juice, garlic, 2 tablespoons of oregano or thyme, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of pepper. Mix well, then spoon into a large shallow dish. Top with the yogurt, swirling it through slightly so there are obvious streaks. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano or thyme over the top, drizzle with a little oil, and serve.

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